More than 1.4 million children have been displaced by Boko Haram extremists operating in Nigeria’s Lake Chad region, but humanitarian funding for the crisis continues to fall short, the United Nations said Friday.
“With more refugees and not enough resources, our ability to deliver lifesaving assistance on the ground is now seriously compromised,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa.
UNICEF has received less than a third of the $50.3 million it says it needs for humanitarian response across the region. And the number of displaced only continues to grow.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has called Boko Haram’s defeat a top priority for his administration. The vast majority of the displaced children — 1.2 million of the total 1.4 million — are Nigerian, and were uprooted in the past five months, UNICEF said. More than half of the Nigerians are under the age of 5.
An estimated 265,000 displaced children are from Cameroon, Chad, and Niger who have been uprooted as the extremists continue to operate across borders. A multinational task force backed by all four countries, with support from Benin, is working to battle Boko Haram, which upped its extremist offensive in the past two years as it razed villages and kidnapped children from their schools.
Boko Haram, which translates roughly to “Western education is forbidden,” first launched its offensive in 2009, and schools have emerged as some of its biggest targets in an ongoing campaign to carve out a stretch of territory ruled by extremist Sharia law in northeast Nigeria and neighboring countries.
Buhari, who won the presidential election against incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in March, ran largely on a campaign of increased security. Shortly after taking over the presidency in May, Buhari sacked a number of top military chiefs, and in August gave officials three months to beat back the group. But as the extremists continue to terrorize the entire Lake Chad region, Buhari’s latest deadline offers his military a daunting and largely unrealistic task.
Boko Haram lost control of a significant amount of the territory it controlled during a largely Chad-led offensive this past spring, and has in turn resorted more frequently to suicide bomb attacks, which are harder to avert without increased intelligence. In a number of cases, young girls have been used as suicide attackers, killing hundreds at markets and bus stations across the region.
In July, two young girls reportedly detonated themselves at crowded marketplaces in the populated university town of Maroua, in Cameroon’s far north region. In Nigeria, girls and women have been used for the same purpose dozens of times. That threat prompted governments in Chad, Niger, and Cameroon to ban the full-face Muslim veil, which they claimed allowed young women to conceal their identities when they entered public spaces with bombs strapped to their bodies.
Children who escape before they are recruited as soldiers, wives, or suicide bombers, are often left to fend for themselves in precarious conditions. UNICEF reported that 208,000 remain out of school and 83,000 do not have access to clean water. On top of that, 124,000 have not been vaccinated for measles, despite numerous outbreaks of the disease in camps for the displaced.
And according to Fontaine, these shortfalls are a direct result of humanitarian funding shortages in the region.
“Without additional support, hundreds of thousands of children in need will lack access to basic health care, safe drinking water and education,” he said.
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